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Chad 'dialogue' overshadowed by rebels' boycott

By Dylan GAMBA
Chad General Mahamat Idriss Deby, here seen in France in November, seized power last year after his father was killed during a military operation against rebels.  By Ludovic MARIN AFP
AUG 18, 2022 LISTEN
General Mahamat Idriss Deby, here seen in France in November, seized power last year after his father was killed during a military operation against rebels. By Ludovic MARIN (AFP)

More than 1,400 delegates gather in Chad from Saturday for a crucial parlay on the future of the poor and troubled African nation.

Scheduled to last three weeks, the "inclusive national dialogue" in N'Djamena is the brainchild of junta chief General Mahamat Idriss Deby.

He has hailed it as a chance for reconciliation in the fractured country, paving the way to the return of civilian rule.

"In a few days, all of the country's sons and daughters... will meet to scrutinise Chad's woes," Deby said last week on the occasion of the country's national day.

"Every question of national interest will be put on the table."

But commentators are cautious. The forum, which has already been delayed several times, faces time pressure and critics say its credibility is badly flawed.

Deby took the helm in April last year after his father, Idriss Deby Itno, the country's ruler for 30 years, was killed during a military operation against rebels.

The parlay is to address the future of the impoverished African nation.  By AURELIE BAZZARA-KIBANGULA AFP The parlay is to address the future of the impoverished African nation. By AURELIE BAZZARA-KIBANGULA (AFP)

His son, aged just 37, was appointed head of a ruling body of 15 loyalist generals, the Military Transition Council, the constitution was repealed and parliament dissolved.

The takeover marked the latest bout of volatility in Chad, which has been buffeted by coups, revolts and iron-fisted rule since independence from France in 1960.

The forum, said Deby, should open the way to "free and democratic" elections after an 18-month rule by the junta -- a deadline that France, the African Union and others have urged him to uphold.

Chad is deemed by the West to be a key and effective partner in the years-long struggle against jihadism in the Sahel.

Clock ticking

"The dialogue... will enable a new constitution which will be put to a referendum," said Saleh Kebzabo, a vice president of the organising committee and one-time opponent of the older Deby.

Chad.  By Patricio ARANA AFP Chad. By Patricio ARANA (AFP)

Despite this upbeat talk, observers say the process faces hefty problems.

One of them is time -- the 18-month deadline runs out in October, leaving scant time for organising a referendum and then elections in this vast, arid country.

Deby, speaking soon after taking power, also spoke of the option of extending the transition by another 18 months if needed be.

"The timetable for the dialogue, which is supposed to last 21 days, isn't credible," said Enrica Picco of the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

"It's not possible to reach an agreement in such a short time," she said, adding that an extension of the transition was likely.

The forum should have started in February but was repeatedly delayed as Chad's myriad rebel groups, meeting in Qatar, squabbled over whether to attend.

The Front for Change and Concord in Chad FACT, some of whose captured fighters are seen here in N'Djamena last year, is boycotting Saturday's forum.  By Djimet WICHE AFP The Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), some of whose captured fighters are seen here in N'Djamena last year, is boycotting Saturday's forum. By Djimet WICHE (AFP)

In the end, after months of talks, around 40 groups on August 8 signed up to a deal, entailing a ceasefire and guarantee of safe passage.

But two of the biggest rebel groups are boycotting the forum.

They include the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which triggered the offensive in the northeast last year that ended in the elder Deby's death. It says the forum is "skewed in advance".

"FACT's non-attendance is a problem, because it is the rebel group which in a way has triggered the transition," said Picco.

Credibility issue

Rebels account for several dozen representatives at a conference, whose other delegates will come from civil groups, trade unions and government.

But a major political group says it will not be showing up -- Wakit Tamma, a coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups.

Anti-junta demonstrators last year. A coalition of opposition parties and members of civil society, Wakit Tamma, says it will not show up to the talks.  By Djimet WICHE AFP Anti-junta demonstrators last year. A coalition of opposition parties and members of civil society, Wakit Tamma, says it will not show up to the talks. By Djimet WICHE (AFP)

"We estimate that 80 percent of (those attending) are close to the junta," said Succes Masra, head of The Transformers party, which is part of the alliance.

It accuses the junta of violating human rights and using the "dialogue" as a springboard for Deby's election candidacy.

Deby, after taking power, said he would not bid for election.

Government spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah downplayed their absence.

"All the political parties which had seats in previous legislatures are represented," he said. "It's just a few small groups which have pulled out."

He described the talks as "a watershed moment for Chad... (the chance) to put the use of arms behind us, once and for all."

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